Explaining participation in the informal economy: a purchaser perspective

Colin C. Williams (Management School University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Ioana Alexandra Horodnic (Department of Management, Marketing and Business Administration, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iasi, Romania)
Jan Windebank (School of Languages and Cultures, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Publication date: 6 November 2017



Participation in the informal economy has been predominantly explained from a supply side perspective by evaluating the rationales for people working in this sphere. Recognising that many transactions in the informal economy are often instigated by customers, exemplified by purchasers asking “how much for cash?”, the purpose of this paper is to explain the informal economy from a demand-side perspective by evaluating citizens’ rationales for making purchases in the informal economy. Here, the authors test three potential explanations for acquiring goods and services in the informal economy, grounded in rational economic actor, social actor and formal economy imperfections theoretical perspectives.


To do this, a 2013 Eurobarometer survey, involving 27,563 face-to-face interviews conducted in 28 European Union member states is reported.


The finding is that all three rationales apply but the weight given to each varies across populations. A multinomial logit regression analysis then pinpoints the specific groups variously using the informal economy to obtain a lower price, for social or redistributive rationales, or due to the failures of the formal economy in terms of the availability, speed and quality of provision.

Practical implications

The outcome is to reveal that the conventional policy approach of changing the cost/benefit ratios confronting purchasers will only be effective for those purchasers citing a lower price as their prime rationale. Different policy measures will be required for those making informal economy purchases due to the shortcomings of the formal economy, and for social ends. These policy measures are then discussed.


The value and originality of this paper is that it explains participation in the informal economy from a purchaser, rather than the predominant supplier, perspective.



Williams, C.C., Horodnic, I.A. and Windebank, J. (2017), "Explaining participation in the informal economy: a purchaser perspective", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 44 No. 11, pp. 1421-1436. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSE-03-2016-0099

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